Jordan Rising on Work Experience, Youth Theatre, and Plans for the Future

Fifteen year-old Jordan Rising has been part of the Octagon since he was eight. Developing his many talents, creativity, and confidence with our Youth Theatre, Jordan has this week become a member of staff, getting to grips with the theatre’s various departments during his work experience. He has fast become a valuable and delightful part of the team, and we hope to have him back soon – perhaps on the main stage!

Below, Jordan talks to us about what he has learned, his interest in acting, and his plans for the future.

A View from the Bridge, directed by David Thacker. Photo credit: Ian Tilton

“I’m Jordan Rising, aged 15 from Bolton, and the Octagon Theatre has significantly changed my life and given me a lot of experience in acting. I have been doing youth theatre for seven years and I have also explored many different elements of theatre since then, as well as doing performances which has boosted my confidence.

When I first started classes at the Octagon theatre, I didn’t know what to expect. But I soon came to know the staff are so friendly and supportive, but at the same very disciplined and professional. The many skills I have learned at youth theatre include the basics like voice projection, expression and also the more difficult like improvisation and hot seating. I have been to a handful of other theatres to gain experience and most of them I have finished with because they can’t maintain discipline and professionalism like the Octagon. On my work experience week when I discovered other departments and staff in the building and their job to keep the theatre alive, not one of them failed to put a smile on my face, and that’s one thing I’ve began to realise at the Octagon, all the staff are so loveable. They also gave me a thorough understanding about how they all contribute to make plays happen.

I have seen many plays at the Octagon since I was a little kid and the dedication of the actors, the well-made props, costumes, lighting and sound is incredible. But it amazes me even more that other departments like finance, marketing, box office and administration all play big roles to put on a play. I always used to think actors only have a few hours rehearsing a week and to find out they can do several hours every day has surprised me. When I saw Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge earlier this year, these are the things I was thinking about, and David Thacker’s brilliant directing afterwards. This is just one excellent example of a great play I’ve seen at the Octagon.

My childhood dream was to become a Hollywood actor, which seems unreal and sounds like a joke. But that dream still hasn’t disappeared, I do sometimes think about the possibilities of becoming such a successful actor, but at the same time look at the reality of becoming one and how many people work hard but don’t make it. The way I am planning to approach this is by continuing with youth theatre and get the grades I want in school. Then when I’m in college, I can take a course in acting and find an agent who can give me a starting point in acting for film and television. Learning about acting in theatre at the Octagon has definitely put me in the right direction.”

Ann Hornsby Receives International Award for Mind’s Eye Description Services

Ann Hornsby (front) with Lesley Hutchison in rehearsals for Noises Off, June 2015

Ex-Head of Marketing at the Octagon Theatre Anne Hornsby has been selected as the recipient of the 2015 International Achievement Award presented by the American Council of Blind People and its Audio Description Project.

The award will be announced today at the American Conference in Dallas, although it’s business as usual for Anne, who runs Mind’s Eye Description Services from her base in Bolton.

The wonderful Anne said in her own words:

“It all began in the late 80s here at The Octagon where Anne was working as Head of Marketing and Front of House.  A blind theatregoer, Sheila Birkett, asked if it would be possible to offer Audio Description in Bolton. At that point this service for blind and visually impaired people enabling them to access the arts, was only being provided in America and in one theatre in the UK.

With the assistance of Chief Technician Phil Clarke, at The Octagon, we worked out how to transmit the Describer’s voice to the customer through an infra-red system, and with feed-back from listeners, developed the service.

Audio description aims to capture in words the visual elements of a show, film or exhibition; the scenery, the costumes, the characters’ physical appearance, their gestures, facial expressions, movements, actions, particularly fights, dances and of course sex scenes!  The audio description is woven around the dialogue of the play or film, so that it does not interfere with the dialogue.

Prior to the performance at a theatre, customers are offered the opportunity to go onstage for a ‘touch tour’ where they explore the set, costumes and quite often the actors come to say hello too.

The touch tour is followed by a 15 minute introduction delivered over head-sets, which describes the set, the characters and costumes and any conventions of the piece, so that by the time the lights brighten, the non-sighted audience are as much in the picture as their sighted friends and companions.

In Galleries and Museums, the Describer’s challenge is to encapsulate in words the visual aspects of works of art or museum objects.  The description is then delivered live, alongside a talk from the curator, or is recorded for listeners to have at their convenience.

I feel honoured and privileged that my work as an Audio Describer and Audio Description Trainer has been recognised by this award.  I have a fantastic job, travelling all over Great Britain and beyond, to increase access to the arts through audio description.

I’m lucky enough to see some fantastic shows and exhibitions and to meet many of the people involved in these arts events, as well as the thousands of people who use the service, and whose visits are significantly enhanced by the audio description.”

Work experience at the Octagon, June-July 2015

This week we (Leah and Rosa) have been doing our work experience at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton. We have learnt so much and would love to share our new found knowledge and experiences with you.

Stage Management - backstage at the Octagon Theatre

My name is Leah Ward, I am 16 years of age and have known I wanted to have my work experience at the Octagon theatre for a while. This week has helped me to develop an array of ideas of the different types of jobs there are in a theatre. At this moment in time, my dream job is to become a successful actress on the West End. As many of you may be aware, such a career is very hard to achieve. The Octagons packed week full of guidance in all the departments of a theatre has opened my eyes.  I am now aware of the unseen jobs in a theatre that you don’t pay as an audience member to see. The jobs such as, being part of Stage Management, a front of house Assistant, or a chief executive!

My name is Rosa Sanchez-Johnson and I am 15 years old. I am currently doing my work experience at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton. Every aspect of a single performance highly interests me, however in the past it has been highly mysterious. This experience has crystallised many factors of the theatre for me and has made my curiosity stronger and far more intentional. Unlike Leah as far as I am concerned my career path is undecided, however the atmosphere the theatre holds is so intriguing that I felt that I had to see a true representation of theatre life when the opportunity did rise to venture into an industry for a week.

Leah and I were soon introduced to Vicky. She gave us a tour of theatre and let us know what we would be doing during the week, this included introducing us to the schedule she had produced and a few of the staff. We would like to give a huge thank you to her as without her the whole experience would not have been possible.

We started of the week spending time with the theatre group Dramatic Action. This was a new experience for both myself and Leah however we gained an insight into the vast community work the Octagon does therefore establishing an admiration for both the participants and those that allow such projects to take place. The challenge, however, did rise when I (Rosa) was asked to play the main role in the show the group were putting on the day after due to an unexpected fall out from the great performer Sharon on that particular day. I happily agreed to take part due to the fact that I felt the issue portrayed through the short play (hate crime) was very important and needed to be shared but also that the cast members deserved a stable group. Leah and I saw the enthusiasm of the community to learn more about such issues and also saw the loyalty and love all members held for the group leaving us both truly moved. All performances were amazing and Leah and I would like to give a huge congratulations to Dramatic Art!

During the week myself and Leah both did alternate shifts at the café and box office. We saw the true inner workings of the small departments that are the face of the Octagon and were both shocked at the drive needed to keep the operations going as well as the massive effect and importance they have on the rest of theatre. We also spent time in Finance and Communications. Expecting to learn about business and money almost separate from the theatre I was shocked to find out the importance of such roles and the strong links between such organisation and the final production. Communication’s also brought me great knowledge in that I learnt about the need for communications and their very charitable aim which is to get more people involved in theatre and make a clearer understanding of the Octagon in the community.

Leah and I had the pleasure of learning about the mechanics of the workers during the performance (ushers etc.). This was far more complicated than I expected however I must say the t-shirt and head piece radio soon dimmed the shock and made me feel like a true professional. Due to the summer weather the heat was hard for many audience members however it allowed me to see the patience of the workers and the determination it takes as to make sure the audience is enjoying the performance. Obviously watching the wonderful show Noises Off was amazing, however the insight into the level of attention given to make sure the audience can comfortably watch performances was really incredible.

We have been doing quite a lot of work in the workshop. The building is amazing! The range of costumes, props, old files and set parts makes the place leak memory and creativity. Visiting and helping out there allowed us to see part of the job of stage management however my fascination with the chaotic organisation and variation around me took my mind of the task at hand for a fair few minutes.

We would like to express our gratitude to all the staff at the Octagon for allowing us to learn and grow as theatre-lovers and perhaps as someone with a future career in theatre. The insight given will not be forgotten and we are truly thankful for everybody that allowed us to have such an amazing week.

Backstage On Stage: The Noises Off Set Change

Since it opened on Thursday 4 June, we’ve had as many positive audience comments about the Noises Off set and the theatre’s (real) backstage goings-on as we have had about the production itself. Due to popular demand, we cornered our Head of Production, Olly Seviour, who gave us a few bullet points about the complicated set and how his team constructed and conquered it…

Olly has been Head of Production at the Octagon for six years.

  • This production is usually presented by using a revolving stage. Due to the limited space on The Octagon’s stage, our set has to be revolved in 3 separate sections (trucks) and moved to the other side of the stage to enable the audience to see backstage for Act 2.
  • Each truck has 12 swivelling wheels that are manually raised and lowered by the crew. So far only 2 wheels have broken!
  • The set was built and decorated in a 5 week period by 6 set builders and painters.
  • Due to the limited space at our set building workshop, the first time we were able to move the trucks to check they would work was the day we brought them to the theatre.
  • The set was built in such a way that meant we could dismantle it to transport it to the theatre and then through a 2 metre wide door at the back of our building.
  • When all of the pieces were in the building it took 8 set builders 2 12 hour shifts to get it to a fully working and presentable state.
  • The technical rehearsals began 2 days after the set arrived in to the building. During the technical 6 door handles had to be replaced due to the intensive door slamming.
  • The following production staff were required to get the production ready for its first audience: 8 set builders, 2 scenic painters, 4 stage managers, 3 electricians, 4 wardrobe staff, a Director, an Assistant Director, a Designer, a Lighting Designer, a Sound Designer, a Fight Director and an Associate and Movement Director.
  • The stage floor is the original hardwood planked floor that was installed when the Octagon was built in 1967 It took 3 people with floor sanders 12 hours to remove the many layers of black paint.

    All hands on deck: the Noises Off set, designed by Ruari Murchison, mid-change.

  • Due to the amount of varnish in the paint and the thousands of nails in the floor, we used 170 sanding sheets for the floor sanders as they broke within minutes of changing them.
  • The wallpaper on the set is from a vintage wallpaper supplier in Lincolnshire. This supplier has 100,000 rolls of wallpaper to choose from and are used by most TV, film and Theatre companies.
  • The hideous floral sofa was bought for £20 from a charity shop in Essex.
  • The 6 types of floral carpet were bought from 6 separate independent sellers. They were then all collected in one day from Hertfordshire, Walsall, Manchester, Liverpool and Wigan.
  • Due to the amount of running around on the set the stairs and landing handrail are made from metal and then painted to look like wood.
  • The first time we timed the interval scene change it took 55 minutes! Luckily we managed to get it a bit quicker before the first paying audience watched it.

On Stage: The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans

Denise Welch. Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

After the initial excitement of getting the cast onto the beautiful set, designed by James Cotterill, tech week began. This involves long days for everyone involved in the show, particularly those back stage. David reminded us frequently that this whole process is, and has been, developmental; we have been discovering, not trying to enact something fixed within his mind. During tech week this collaborative nature of the process was especially clear, as input from other creatives was realised.

Eric Potts and Lauren Drummond. Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

The actors were pushed again to ensure that they could be heard throughout the theatre on every line, regardless of whether it is written as whispered or shouted. This involved technical challenges, such as being heard over a hoover, as well as emotional challenges, such as how to be heard whilst retaining genuine emotion, which, in reality, would make you inaudible. Other technical challenges involved the handling of props, and much time was spent on the inclusion of real candles! Performing in the round rules out many stage tricks which might be employed in a proscenium performance, and in some cases we could not usefully rehearse until using the proper stage. With much patience from the cast and crew, however, candles were mastered, props became familiar, and performances began to take on a real integrity when placed in a naturalistic setting.

Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

Working with this cast has reminded me of the brilliant balance which actors succeed in maintaining. For strong performances, they are required to have intellect, skill, and emotion. I have learnt a huge amount from watching David tease all three of these elements out of the actors. The former they require for understanding the text, and intentions or objections which they are playing. The skills include learning and remembering lines, being seen and heard at appropriate moments, and handling often complicated props while either delivering lines of being sensitive to other actors who are doing so at that point. Finally, these two must be combined with emotion; connecting to the character, and allowing their reality to exist within the actor as an imaginative truth.

I was also blown away once again by the stage management department at the Octagon. The detail on the props that they create never fails to astound me. Whilst backstage I noticed a totally convincing gas bill which has been created as dressing for the living room set. At no point is this mentioned in the stage directions, or referenced by a character, it is merely part of the general clutter required, but it has been created to the highest standard regardless. This attention to detail is consistent throughout the props created for the play, and demonstrates the support provided to the actors by other departments in creating this world.

Sitting in the audience for the first preview of our World Premiere was an exhilarating experience, and it quickly became a thoroughly enjoyable one as a generous first audience reminded us of the humour and humanity in this play.

- Jocelyn Cox is currently Assistant Director in residence at the Octagon Theatre as part of the Regional Theatre Young Directors’ Scheme. She was Assistant Director to Elizabeth Newman on Private Lives, and is currently working as David Thacker’s Assistant Director on The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans.

There is currently a call from the Octagon for writers to submit a new play which Jocelyn will develop with Graeae in London as a Playlab as part of her placement here.

She has previously directed mainly in Scotland, and is excited to be engaged here in such a vibrant regional theatre scene.

In the Rehearsal Room: The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans, part 4

Eric Potts and Denise Welch. Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

Week Four marked the end of our rehearsal period in the Lab, the first run for a small audience, and the gateway to getting into tech and onto the stage. During this last time in rehearsal, the performances were really developed through intense work by the cast with David. He emphasised his philosophy of a continual figure of eight being played out between actors on stage; you are open to your scene partner, you receive from them, and this affects you. They then receive from you, and that affects them. This is an on-going process, and serves to remind the cast that spontaneity is being sought; they are not blocked into specific movements or rehearsed reactions, but rather are asked to respond to what the rest of the cast give them on the stage at that time. David asks his actors not to plan ahead at all, but rather to merely receive from others, and respond. There is no denial within the room that this is a difficult ask, nor any expectation that it can be consistently achieved. Instead, it is laid out as an aspiration, and when the cast succeed in inhabiting their characters and world in this way, they are all pleased with the resulting performances.

A condensed version of the circle of trust was implemented in the final week, with lines run through quickly whilst seated, then units performed on their feet – with some interjections from Mr Truth, or discussions, where necessary – and then entire acts run. This gave the cast real confidence in the journeys of their characters within the show. The cast were also starting to prepare for performing on the stage, rather than in the Lab. This entailed much emphasis on clarity, focusing on their diction, volume, and energy. David was constantly trying to strike a balance between allowing the dialogue to be conversational, whilst stopping it from losing energy, and therefore clarity. Any habits developed during rehearsal were also highlighted and removed, as these represent a form of blocking which denies reactive performances.

Eric Potts and Lauren Drummond. Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

We were very lucky to have a small invited audience to watch two runs of the show before we moved it out of the Lab, and this was very beneficial both for the cast and creatives. Although a small audience in a rehearsal space is often more inhibited than a larger audience watching on stage, having people in the room with fresh eyes and ears always pinpoints again the moments of humour and poignancy which can inevitably become lessened for those who have watched the show for a month, and know it well. We got some interesting and very heartening feedback; it is always a scary moment to discover whether you have succeeded in communicating to an audience what you have thought around a play within a rehearsal room. The early indications were positive, which gave everyone a great buzz as we headed into tech week and first previews.

- Jocelyn Cox is currently Assistant Director in residence at the Octagon Theatre as part of the Regional Theatre Young Directors’ Scheme. She was Assistant Director to Elizabeth Newman on Private Lives, and is currently working as David Thacker’s Assistant Director on The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans.

There is currently a call from the Octagon for writers to submit a new play which Jocelyn will develop with Graeae in London as a Playlab as part of her placement here.

She has previously directed mainly in Scotland, and is excited to be engaged here in such a vibrant regional theatre scene.

In the Rehearsal Room: The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans, part 3

(L-R) Matt Tait, Eric Potts, David Thacker and Lauren Drummond. Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

Week Three: Tibetans and Mr Truth

We continued our practice of the Five Tibetans this week, unfortunately none of us have been mistaken for drastically younger versions of ourselves…yet. We shall persevere. We have definitely noticed that the Rites become easier to perform once you are in a practice of them though, so maybe there is some magic in the mystery after all?

This week we entered David’s circle of trust. This process has been challenging for the actors, but absolutely imperative for an accurate production of Jim’s play. It aims at securing accuracy on language, but also finding the truth of the relationships and moments. Using the units we have divided the script into for our rehearsal process, the circle of trust begins with running for line accuracy. Here the actors are corrected by Saf, our Deputy Stage Manager, on every word, even corrected each them they incorrectly abbreviate ‘I am’ into ‘I’m’. This requires a great deal of patience from everyone in the room. Once the cast are comfortable with their precise lines, we move to the second stage for that unit – accuracy with speed. All of the air is taken out from between lines and sections, and the actors must deliver the exact words at a heightened pace. This ensures that the lines are cemented for them, without needing conscious thought to respond as written. Following this, the third circle of trust involves engaging with their scene partners. The super-speed is dispensed with, the accuracy retained, and the actors must focus on communicating with the other characters they are playing with. The final stage of the process is to get the units up on their feet, playing in the space.

(L-R) Eric Potts, Matt Tait, and Lauren Drummond. Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox.

Once the final stage is reached, the units are given real life, as the actors have complete confidence in their lines. We are very fortunate to have much of the actual furniture in the Lab with us for rehearsals, and a replica of the main set piece, which aids the rehearsal process, as it removes any confusion about what will be physically possible. It also helps build a real sense of location; we are all building memories through time spend in Doug and Penny’s home, or a very close replica of it!

Also introduced this week was David’s alter-ego – Mr Truth. David uses this device to step into scenes and speak directly to the characters. This method allows him to clarify production facts, and ensure that actors have a clear understanding and interpretation of the scene. The cast have all been very accepting of his presence in this mode, and respond without hesitation, in character, to his enquiries. We have all learnt a great deal about the characters, and the narrative of the play, through these interjections, especially because the characters are not able to lie to this presence. It has also served to remind us how dedicated our cast are to this play, and this process; they often have answers to Mr Truth’s questions based on decisions which they have developed in their own time, outside of rehearsals. For example, Lauren recently told us the name, and physically described, someone who is mentioned within one of her speeches merely once; it turned out she has thought through an entire backstory for this minor character!

The week ended with a jaunt through the full play, which was a pleasure to watch. There are real moments of clarity and honesty developing already. We continue to enjoy this exciting piece of new writing, and look forward to having Jim back in the rehearsal room with us next week, heading towards a full run of the play in a few days, and welcoming other members of the creative team back into the room before we embark on Tech Week!

- Jocelyn Cox is currently Assistant Director in residence at the Octagon Theatre as part of the Regional Theatre Young Directors’ Scheme. She was Assistant Director to Elizabeth Newman on Private Lives, and is currently working as David Thacker’s Assistant Director on The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans.

There is currently a call from the Octagon for writers to submit a new play which Jocelyn will develop with Graeae in London as a Playlab as part of her placement here.

She has previously directed mainly in Scotland, and is excited to be engaged here in such a vibrant regional theatre scene.

In the Rehearsal Room: The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans, part 2

(L-R) Lauren Drummond and Matt Tait. Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

Week Two: Creativity and Constraints

This week the Five Tibetans continued to play a role, and some cast members are becoming increasingly passionate, and a little competitive about them… reminiscent of Jim’s characters! There was much discussion of how these would be incorporated into the production. It was especially interesting to be part of this decision making process, as it highlighted the practical factors which coincide with artistic desires, and combine to form final outcomes. I particularly enjoyed participating in these conversations, and am giddy from the excitement of having creative input when my idea was welcomed, to be tried during the production. It was a lesson in the compromises which producing theatre entails. Although this creative practice is so reliant upon imagination, it must be executed in the physical world, where there are limitations of reality! This tension is constantly present, and pushes the creative team to make exciting choices which are executed through problem-solving, trying to reconcile the magic of ideas with the practicalities of a specific space, repeated performances, and determined budget.

The cast also continued to have fittings, supervised by James and utilizing the talents of the in-house wardrobe department at the theatre. These supported the cast in starting to firm up character choices, as often their costumes influence their posture, or interpretation of an aspect of their character, inspiring them to consider aspects that are not necessarily explicit within the text. In particular, we learnt about the possibility of performing yoga whilst in motorbike apparel. Thankfully modern leathers are quite flexible!

I presented the walls of research to the cast and creative team this week, giving them access to information such as the top charting music during the years our characters would have been university, background information on names of the characters, elaborations of references in the text, and images of mentioned places and things. These remain on one side of the rehearsal room, along with the time line and facts document, and are continually added to as we make more discoveries, fine tune more choices, and explore more specifics associated with the play. I specifically enjoyed researching the methods of pursuing eternal youth over the ages, from ancient rulers to modern celebrities; dramatic lengths have been gone to throughout history!

In terms of rehearsal, this week was dominated by drilling lines with the cast. Having worked so closely with Jim, and gained valuable insights into his choices of not just elements of story, but also style of writing and vocabulary, we were all especially motivated to accurately serve the text. This entailed much hard work from the actors, repeatedly running scenes and accepting corrections, until the words on the page were consistently delivered as written. I was reminded of my huge respect for the technical ability of actors during this process, and their patience. Such close attention to textual detail also allowed for much excavation of meaning, and discussion of the words. We were led to consider interesting choices; why do some characters swear? Why is there such a gulf between the way characters describe themselves, compared to how other characters describe them? Why do characters refer to each other in such specific ways, and how do these vary during the course of the play?

Denise Welch. Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

The rehearsal room, or Lab, has been buzzing with energy as we start to find these characters, and better understand their actions and interactions. As the actors get to grips with their lines, it is an interesting time to be around them, as with confidence handling the text comes a familiarity with their roles. Spending so much time closely studying the language of another human being inevitably makes them more concrete and brings them closer; suddenly, in the characters which they will play, the actors have new friends – people they feel that they know well, and talk about with ease and assurance. Suddenly, around our little table sit not just the five actors who will turn up for work at the theatre each night, but also the characters you will meet on stage!

- Jocelyn Cox is currently Assistant Director in residence at the Octagon Theatre as part of the Regional Theatre Young Directors’ Scheme. She was Assistant Director to Elizabeth Newman on Private Lives, and is currently working as David Thacker’s Assistant Director on The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans.

There is currently a call from the Octagon for writers to submit a new play which Jocelyn will develop with Graeae in London as a Playlab as part of her placement here.

She has previously directed mainly in Scotland, and is excited to be engaged here in such a vibrant regional theatre scene.

In the Rehearsal Room: The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans

Week One: Research & Reading

(L-R) Lauren Drummond, Eric Potts, and Matt Tait. Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

It all began with a meet and greet. I didn’t necessarily expect that to include meeting and greeting the playwright himself though! We are lucky enough to have Jim Cartwright working with us, and present in the room for rehearsal on this World Premiere, an experience which means a great deal to me given that I have just written my MA Philosophy thesis on the relationship between playwrights and directors in determining meaning of plays and productions.

Following the model presentation, where James talked us through his vision of the piece, we got to work on the script itself. This began with reading around the circle, both cast and creative team members saying lines from the script, to get an initial experience of the play.  However, this was only our first collective experience of the play. The actors had excitedly been reading the script since auditioning with it and being cast, and the creative team had been working on and around it for a significant pre-production period. I had been immersing myself in research regarding Tibet, Lamaseries, ageing, and of course, The Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth, a real book originally published in 1939.

During this initial reading, we began the process of mining for facts, which plays a key role in David’s rehearsal process. I compiled a document listing every fact revealed within the play, and also every fact specific to our production. The former included foundational elements of the narrative, such as how the characters describe each other, and the latter included choices we have made for this World Premiere performance of the show; such as where the characters went to university. We were in the privileged position of having Jim there to discuss these choices with us, and therefore although we made our own choices based on our collective interpretation of the text, we were able to verify these with the playwright and check that they didn’t wildly contradict his original intentions.

It was not only the actors playing parts at this stage of the process. Jim too had a role to play – that of the playwright’s ghost. As we mined for facts, he was banned from answering questions or contributing to discussions, as David wanted the document to chronologically reflect facts as they are discovered in the play, only taking into account what the audience, and characters, know at that point in the action. At the end of each Act Jim was given the opportunity to answer questions and feedback on the discussions he had witnessed, and then quickly returned to ghost status as we moved on through, continuing our reading and mining.

Lauren Drummond and Matt Tait. Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

Once we had mined the script for facts, I then began the process of assembling the timeline of events. This is currently on the rehearsal room wall, with each event written on a post-it note, which can then be moved as we alter our perceptions of how, and when, things happen to these characters. We finished out first week with discussions of ageing and youth. These were particularly interesting given the age span within our cast and creative teams. Everyone departed for Easter with a real enthusiasm for the content, and an engagement with David’s process, ready to bring these characters and their concerns to life in the world being so beautifully created by James and Pete, the designer and sound designer, who were around in the room for much of this first stage. Our final aspect for introduction at this initial stage was of the Five Tibetans themselves. Lesley, Associate and Movement Director, began to teach the positions, and I assisted by imparting the knowledge I had gleaned from reading all three versions of the original text! Not only did the cast leave with lines to begin familiarizing themselves with, but also armed with a sequence of yoga moves to become comfortable with…

- Jocelyn Cox is currently Assistant Director in residence at the Octagon Theatre as part of the Regional Theatre Young Directors’ Scheme. She was Assistant Director to Elizabeth Newman on Private Lives, and is currently working as David Thacker’s Assistant Director on The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans.

There is currently a call from the Octagon for writers to submit a new play which Jocelyn will develop with Graeae in London as a Playlab as part of her placement here.

She has previously directed mainly in Scotland, and is excited to be engaged here in such a vibrant regional theatre scene.

The Private Life of Private Lives

Photo credit: Jocelyn Cox

In preparing for our Investigate Day, I have been reflecting on the rehearsal process of Private Lives

Spending four rehearsal weeks in the world of Noël Coward did wonderful but funny things to us all. We became pithier, and more aware of linguistic comedy. We also learnt to enjoy things, to revel in experiences; be those the drinking of champagne or the incubation of a cold! Elizabeth Newman’s approach was all-encompassing, and we were guided into the elegant world of these characters with images, music, and poetry throughout the process. It was a collaborative time of discovering both the characters and their world.

The private lives behind this production don’t just include the roles of production and creative team members unseen by audiences. During the rehearsal period, the private lives of the characters seen on stage were also developed. Through exercises and improvisations, the actors found not only their relationships with each other, but also pinned down their personal histories. Sibyl and Amanda have both drawn their wedding dresses, for example. And Elyot can give a fluent description of Sibyl’s mother, and elucidation of his views regarding that particular lady! Victor, meanwhile, can catalogue each of the suggestions he made for the wedding, and how Amanda overruled them. It is this attention to detail which I think shines through the production, allowing the actors to fully inhabit their characters.

The process focused on not judging the people within the play, and Elizabeth’s refusal to condemn any of their behaviour was freeing for the company. We learnt to empathise with their choices, even if we hoped not to follow their paths ourselves. As such, the actors are given scope to play, with joy, these parts. Playing took centre stage throughout the rehearsal period also, which included the painting of a huge mural on one lab wall, depicting the cast’s vision of the vista from their hotel balconies. It remained throughout the process, and seemed to serve as both an anchor within their surroundings as they created that Deauville scene, and also a reminder of the license they had been granted by Elizabeth to run with their imaginations.

As assistant director, it still amazes me that the creative team are now removed from the show, and in a way, the performances have become a private life of the cast and crew. The characters we spent those weeks with in rehearsal now live out their private moments for an audience each night. This is the greatest joy to revel in of all; they are sharing Coward’s story with honesty and elegance night after night, happily transporting the theatre patrons of Bolton to a time of decadence.

- Jocelyn Cox is currently Assistant Director in residence at the Octagon Theatre as part of the Regional Theatre Young Directors’ Scheme. She was Assistant Director to Elizabeth Newman on Private Lives, and is currently working as David Thacker’s Assistant Director on The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans.

She is directing ‘Poetry on a Plate’ tomorrow, in the bar! There is currently a call from the Octagon for writers to submit a new play which Jocelyn will develop with Graeae in London as a Playlab as part of her placement here.

She has previously directed mainly in Scotland, and is excited to be engaged here in such a vibrant regional theatre scene.

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